A veteran journalist on regional affairs
Kavi Chongkittavorn is a veteran journalist on regional affairs
The confirmation of Samantha Power last week as the new head of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) was overshadowed by President Joe Biden's speech marking his 100 days in office. With an annual budget of US$41 billion (1.28 trillion baht), her organisation can shift and change the direction of US foreign policy around the world.
After a little over three hours of meetings on Saturday in Jakarta, the Asean leaders agreed on a five-point consensus regarding the current crisis in Myanmar, placing the 54-year-old organisation in the driver's seat in this regional process. In the beginning, critics expressed concern that it would be impossible for Asean to persuade the military junta, headed by Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, to accept the cessation of violence against protesters. Even on the day of the summit, there were reports of shootings as well as the arrests of protesters and journalists.
Almost immediately upon her arrival here in Bangkok last weekend, the UN special envoy on Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, tweeted that she regretted that Tatmadaw was not ready to receive her. "I am ready for dialogue. Violence never leads to peaceful, sustainable solutions," she said.
Moscow is becoming the most prominent supporter of the military junta in Nay Pyi Taw. While the international community strongly condemned the junta's two months of atrocities against peaceful protestors, last week Russia was bold to say that it wanted to increase military cooperation with Myanmar.
With the unexpected coup in Myanmar on Feb 1 and the ensuing violent clashes between protesters and security forces over the past six weeks, Thailand is stuck between a rock and hard place. Thailand's foreign and security policy-makers have adopted three strategies in handling one of the most "difficult political incidents" in a neighbouring country.
Thailand's future is now at the edge of a precipice due to the recent virus outbreak in Samut Sakhon that has now spread to over 50 out of 77 provinces. The unexpected upsurge has dramatically diminished public confidence that the government will be able to contain the pandemic in a sustainable way. Worst of all, it has also dampened economic activity and overall post-Covid-19 recovery forecasts and plans. At this juncture, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha's legacy in terms of his performance during the epidemic is unclear.
It has been a four-year hiatus for the three Asian economic powerhouses. Whatever their collaborative configurations may have been, they were frequently constrained by the world's biggest disruptor, President Donald Trump. With the lame-duck president now leaving the global scene, China, Japan and Korea (CJK) are salvaging their relationships at Shinkansen speed. Being Asian, they can now be a little bit humble, saving the faces of each another for a while for being so rigid and aggressive.
1. First and foremost, Asean is one less problem for the US globally because it is peaceful and prosperous. Supporting Asean means strengthening both US cooperation and its profile in Southeast Asia. Former Asean secretary-general Surin Pitsuwan often told his American colleagues including former US State Secretary Hillary Clinton when she first visited the Asean Secretariat in April 2012 that Asean is a big asset for the US.
Today, Americans will go to the polls to elect their 46th president. It doesn't matter who the next president will be, the incumbent Donald Trump or his challenger, Joe Biden. Why? As far as Indo-Pacific region is concerned, the die has been cast due to the strategic competition between the two superpowers, the US and China. Therefore, the presidential outcome and impact on the global stage remain unchanged. New rhetoric and approaches might be generated but that would be it.
After a pause brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic and unexpected circumstances, some positive signals are coming from the Peace Dialogue Panel, the Thai negotiating team, that the stalled peace process in the country's deep South is moving forward once again. This time, all concerned parties are hoping that dialogue will bridge the divide and forge a common roadmap that will bring an immediate end to the violence and lay firm foundations for peaceful coexistence, greater autonomy and mutual respect for religious beliefs, identities and cultural heritage.